How to treat dog car anxiety

If you want to treat your dog to long countryside walks and take them away on holiday, then you’ll likely need to travel with them in the car. However, dog car anxiety can often ruin your trip before it’s even begun, as nobody likes to see their pooch suffering from stress.

So, how do you keep your dog calm in the car? In this article, we will look at some simple measures you can introduce to ensure your dog's car experience is smoother and more enjoyable for everybody concerned.

Are car rides stressful for dogs?

While many dogs don’t mind car journeys, there are unfortunately some that suffer from varying degrees of car anxiety. This could be due to:

  • Motion sickness
  • Car noises and vibrations from the engine
  • A previous bad experience in a car
  • Associating cars with going somewhere they don’t like (the dreaded trip to the vet).

It’s quite common for car rides to stress dogs out, so there is no need to panic if yours is affected. With a little patience and the successful application of the steps below, you should be able to enjoy stress-free car rides with your dog before you know it.

Do dogs get motion sickness?

Yes, one of the reasons your dog might be unsettled is because it’s suffering from motion sickness. This is more commonly found in puppies, whose ears are underdeveloped and unable to regulate their balance properly. The good news is that in most cases your young pup will grow out of this as they mature.

Signs your dog is anxious in the car

While it’s not always easy to tell, there are still some clear signs that indicate whether your dog is suffering from car anxiety. The most common signs include:

  • Reluctance to get in the car
  • Whining or barking
  • Intense panting
  • Yawning
  • Excessive drooling
  • Pacing or restlessness
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Lip smacking.

How to reduce your dog’s car anxiety

Once you recognise unusual behaviour, it’s important to address the issue and learn how to calm a dog in the car. Try the following seven steps to ensure their tail keeps wagging.

  1. Walk slowly towards the car and reward your dog with treats as they approach the vehicle. Repeat this process until your dog feels comfortable.
  2. Open the door or boot of the car and reward your dog. Slowly walk away with your dog sitting next to the vehicle and repeat several times to reinforce this process.
  3. Once your dog can stand next to the car with the door open, encourage them to investigate the vehicle on their own. As they do this, talk to them to reassure them and continue to give them treats. 
  4. While your dog is in the car, close the door briefly and then open it again. Repeat this process until your dog can comfortably stay in the car for close to a minute. 
  5. If your dog remains calm, then try getting in the front seat and starting the car. Reward your dog and then turn off the engine.
  6. Start the car once more, before trying to drive short distances. Reward your dog every time you bring the car to a stop, gradually increasing the journey time if they remain comfortable.
  7. Practice makes perfect. Hopefully, in no time at all, both you and your dog will be able to enjoy relaxing car rides!

If the above step-by-step process doesn’t work, there are some additional measures you can try. These include:

  • Give them a puzzle toy for the journey to keep them busy
  • Make sure you take regular breaks
  • Avoid playing loud music
  • Keep the temperature inside the car cool
  • Lower the windows
  • Exercise your dog shortly before the journey
  • Ask your vet about possible medication.

When should I take my puppy in the car?

To get your puppy used to the car and avoid anxiety, you should start introducing them to car travel within their first 16 weeks. This timeframe is known as the puppy’s socialisation period, where they are most receptive to new experiences. 

Therefore, this is the perfect time to get your pup used to being in a vehicle and minimise the risk of them developing dog car anxiety. During the first 16 weeks, you can help incentivise your puppy by:

  • Feeding them treats both near the car and inside the vehicle. Try this with the engine on as well
  • Playing fun games near the car
  • Giving them plenty of fuss and praise whenever they’re near the car
  • Starting to take them on short trips before building up to longer journeys
  • Being patient and allowing time for their confidence to build.

Note: you should not let puppies jump out of cars, as the impact can cause permanent injuries to their under-developed joints. We believe every puppy should be covered by a puppy insurance policy to help cover any vets bills should the worst happen.

Now that you know more about dog car anxiety and how to tackle this common problem, you should feel more confident about taking your beloved pooch in the car. 

Follow the dog advice in this article to ensure your doggo can live stress-free and enjoy the ride!

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